A short prose piece for the “Wake Up Project” of the Swiss embassy in Tel Aviv during Corona times.
Startled, his hand whisked through the air, wiping off the web which surrounded him already in the morning, as if something was planting itself into the day, hindering his steps. He did not see anything. But there had to be something. What was it, where could it be? Not there. Not seen. Not by anyone. He stepped over to the window. His eyes glanced over the facades of the buildings. Dawn. Here and there still lights in the windows. He started on his way. The usual way. He stepped onto the street. A shape here and there. The street still grey, noisy, yet muffled, it seemed to him. Still, there was something else. But what. Something was different. What? He kept going as always. Or should he turn around, right here. And start the day over?
Keep going. It will be alright. Everything as usual. Sun after rain. Normal. Were things indeed normal? Was something there, on that wet and damp façade? A writing on the wall? Strange letters, now lit up? He closed his eyes, walked on, the same path as always, the same, the usual. The tram lurched past; in the shop windows the usual glitter on display, splendour. In the middle of the street someone praised: his goods. Others gathered, a group of people, loud, a crowd. We seize the day, we celebrate life, make a toast, a festival like always, a coronation ceremony of life. He stopped. Should he continue as always. Ahead was the river, tree-lined banks, sunlight in green nature, bright speckles, soft banks; they were celebrating there as well, cheerful, loud, gay, goblets clinking, hooting voices, jeering.
Over there were the facades, with shady flecks, sun-gated. He paused. Were these the signs again? The strange characters? But he also saw the flower woman at the corner, figures who walked on, hurrying towards a goal as always. And he heard the chant of the drinkers at the feast, their mockery.
He walked on slowly; what was holding back his steps? Was there indeed something? Darkening the faces, leaving the fingers slightly bent, was there something cutting into the limbs, causing the walk to falter, suspended in the unrestrained, unsupported? Was there a gust from the river, a storm that threatened to sweep over mountains and lake? Had a guest arrived, invisible, uninvited, walking by one’s side, had it? Searching arrival, looking for accommodation for a long stay, and hopping onward. Falling into the day, sitting down at the table of those carousers, who now were close to one another, to themselves, and to mockery. No guests, they shout, everything as usual, scorn and hatred of the non-existent, the phantom that is not. And that writing, those letters on the wall, an M, an E, an N, an E, a T, an E…. and later on, as a tail…. u-pharsin. Wasn’t anyone alarmed? Calling for an interpreter. Daniel: who interpreted. Pleaded to turn around. To wake up. Start over. You. You yourself.
On the banks their carousing continued, someone was leading. Assembling, all those who oppose. Opposing everything.
He turned around, walking slowly now, looking, things weaving, invisibly hovering, the mute, the uninvited guest, the being. It. Can’t be caught with a bare hand, nor with a net. It. There. And not to be seen. But always there. All the time. Growing. In figures and numbers. Obstructing the breath, choking. Until they fell. Passing away. In their extinguished faces “it” gained a face. The invisible. It. Hadn’t read the writing ablaze on the wall. White as a ghost, he who had blasphemed and preached scorn on the banks, pale as death, he who was leading, his servants cold and grey.
Wake up. Turn around. No further. The colours are still there, the call of the robin and the warbler, the white sweet rocket, almost all of them still there, also the shimmer above the water, still butterflies there, no longer all of them, but some. He harkened and listened. Beckoned towards the shadows, through the sprinkling of sunshine over the acacia tree. There was still time to turn around. To start over. Yourself first. You. Then your neighbour. And his neighbour. He turned around and took the other way. The one not yet taken. And took along his neighbour. Who then walked with him. Already two. And the sun over there too, the lapwing, the snail, the weeping moth.
Turn around. Everyone. It’s time.
Translated by Antje Eiger and Dina Charnin
Urs Faes, born in 1947, lives and works in Zurich. His works have received numerous awards, including the Swiss Schiller Prize and the Zolliker Art Prize. His novels “Paarbildung” and “Halt auf Verlangen” were shortlisted for the Swiss Book Prize and his last Novel „Raunächte” has just been translated to Englisch: “Twelve Nights.“ https://www.ursfaes.ch